...time keeps on flowing?
First question: Why is time--as an effect--so damn interesting? Seriously, I can barely write a story these days without twisting the narrative backward, forward, sideways, or all three. I'm not stuck on Time Travel (the Subject) so much, but on the way our perception of events changes our emotional reaction.
Adam is at home preparing dinner. He struggles, because he only has one arm. He's lost the other one. At some point, he becomes frustrated and nearly breaks down in tears. It is clear that this is a recent loss.
If you have any humanity whatsoever, you feel at least a little sympathetic towards Adam.
Flashback to the event that cost him his arm. It turns out that he lost it saving kittens from space pirates. Now he is not only sympathetic, he's a hero. Yay!
Flashback further. He actually used to be a space pirate, and it's his fault the kittens were kidnapped. Now he's a flawed hero, who has overcome his background.
One last flashback, furthest still. He is at a meeting with a super-secret spy person, who tells him that if he can engineer the kidnapping and rescue of a certain special litter of kittens, he will not only be handsomely rewarded, he will be instrumental in enhancing the status of the spy's government during an upcoming series of trade negotiations.
Unfortunately, we also learn (during this conversation) that the spy's culture considers one-armed people to be unwholesome, marked by the dark gods, and less than dirt, socially.
So, we now know that he is not a hero, but a greedy fool who deserves his comeuppance. The End.
I've written a number of stories that jump back and forth in time for exactly this sort of effect. I've also written three that follow this template exactly, jumping backwards in discreet chunks. It seems likely that I'll write many more.
Second question: Is this sort of time-jumping 'cheating'? In other words, since this requires the withholding of character knowledge regarding the past from the reader, am I creating a false mystery? In two of the three inverted chronology stories I've used some maguffin or other to keep the MC from having any memories of their past, partly to avoid this issue. In one, I just, erm... ignored the issue.
In more normal stories, a flashback almost always feels like cheating (if it reveals crucial info, which flashbacks always should) unless there is no better, more logical place to detail the events of the flashback. Preferably before any big decisions involving the knowledge imparted in the flashback are made. Before-the-fact should happen--you guessed it--before-the-act. The writer gets a pass from the reader in this sort of situation only.
Last question: How about a sideways sort of story where stuff down the timestream is affecting stuff up the timestream (like the movie Butterfly Effect and its ilk)? How about a parallel narrative, where two simultaneous timestreams affect each other? (Nope, I don't know how that works exactly, either. Sound cool though, huh?)
Not a question, but: I'm so tempted to go back and figure out a way to write this entire post in reverse. Except that would take way to long and would likely only annoy you. So, instead, I'm going to just pretend that we are now at the beginning, instead of at the end. Do be sure to let me now how this makes you feel.
Hello, welcome to today's post, in which we talk about the twisty nature of timey-wimey and the even twistier nature of reader expectations and emotional responses.